Domestic violence: What’s HR’s role in protecting employees?

Are you doing enough to protect your people?

Domestic violence: What’s HR’s role in protecting employees?

This year, the Singapore Police Force received an average of 415 family violence reports per month since April.

Despite this, there were fewer personal protection orders (PPOs) issued by the Family Justice Courts during the circuit breaker months, reported the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

MSF suggested a reason for the sudden dip during lockdown — which was as low as 24 cases during May — and a sharp jump to over 100 PPOs per month from June to August: Singaporeans had a “misperception that the court services were unavailable”.

This is concerning, especially as families have been forced into lockdown since April. Majority of professionals have been working from home and children, home schooling, since then.

Read more: How can HR help employees facing family violence?

This showed that the authorities can only do so much — so are employers doing enough to help victims? More importantly, are employers even responsible for staff in this way?

Absolutely, said Dr Austin Tay, chartered organisational psychologist and founder/principal consultant at OmniPsi Consulting.

During a webinar organised by United Women Singapore (UWS) and AmCham, Dr Tay pointed out that “the concept” of the employee has changed dramatically over the past decade. What’s more, COVID-19 has highlighted the need for employers to step up their duty of care to staff.

“The line between work and personal life is so blurred at this present moment, especially with COVID-19,” Tay said. “We can no longer expect our employees to compartmentalise their life at home and not bring it to work.

“An organisation has to realise that and has to take charge. If you want your talent to stay, you want employees to be happy, you need to also explore other facets of their life.”

Read more: Remote work: Why mental health support is crucial

The psychological contract
He went on to explain that employers need to adjust policies to support employees as “whole” human beings. To do so, he recommended that leaders keep in mind the “psychological contract”.

“We all know we are bound by contracts legally, so anything that is not black and white, we don’t talk about it because ‘it’s not necessary’, according to the organisation,” he said.

“But a psychological contract is a very implicit expectation of both the organisation and the employee. And we always see a very great power imbalance here, because there’s always the organisation expecting the employee to give 150% [at work].

“Anything else [expected of the employer] they go ‘whoa, this is not in the realm of organisation, anything that happens after five o'clock is not my territory’.”

Read more: R U OK?: Make it daily practice amid COVID-19

Lack of work-life boundaries
He believes it’s “very foolish” for employers to think that they can “box up” the employee and ignore their lives beyond the daily nine-to-five. This is because stressors experienced after hours will inevitably spill over into people’s professional lives.

A recent report by UWS showed just how much domestic violence can affect the employee. There may be evident changes in their concentration, which can lead to a slowness in the completion of work. There may also be inconsistencies in the quality of work or blatant errors.

Worse still, staff may become increasingly tardy or frequently absent from work. And as one report pointed out, absenteeism can cost companies an average of $686 per missed day of work.

“They are not able to do that either [and box up] their emotions,” he said. “They’re going to be actually bringing that to work. And with the added burden from the organisation, people going through harassment [or] domestic violence feel overwhelmed.”

Read more: How to safeguard mental health in a prolonged crisis

The importance of a formal policy
All of this is made worse in the event of lockdowns. Tay referred to an example of a domestic violence survivor who said that home became “where she was so fearful to go, office or the workplace became a haven” for her.

Her account was way before COVID, when the survivor still had a choice for her temporary “escapes” to the office. But now with remote work being the norm, how can victims protect themselves and their family members?

“What can you do as an organisation? You have to start looking at how you can implement policies to help them,” he said.

“When we talk about psychological contracts, because it’s such an implicit expectation, it is very difficult to pin down what are the things an organisation should do. But what an organisation should ask themselves is, what can you offer to employees?”

Considering the tricky and serious nature of the issue, he suggested that employers can work with their professional partners on existing Employee Assistance Programs, for example, and work to expand their harassment policies to include specific benefits for domestic violence sufferers.

If anything, this is an employer’s duty of care to workers, he said.

“Now, you have a duty of care according to the law […] so it does not stop only within the work environment or work responsibility,” he said. “I want to stress: you cannot only treat the individual as a ‘work-self', you need to treat them as an entire human being.

“They are not just there to do a mechanical thing. You need to treat the individual as a whole person rather than a worker who’s getting ‘x’ amount of money in your organisation. It’s no longer good enough and we need to stand up for that.”

If you or someone you know needs support, please contact the following helplines:

  • National CARE hotline: 1800 202 6868
  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444
  • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389 2222
  • TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800 377 2252
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800 353 5800

For violence or abuse:

  • Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6445 0400
  • PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection: 6555 0390
  • Project StART: 6476 1482

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